Ninety percent of Americans have reason to dislike the current college admissions system. If you’re black or Hispanic, you’ve got the usual litany of issues with structural inequities, institutionalized bias, etc. If you’re white, you’re faced with a system which requires affirmative action for any ethnicity which underperforms against whites, but aspires to meritocracy for any ethnicity which outperforms whites. Even amongst those ethnicities which are over-represented in elite colleges, competition for spaces privileges the wealthy, well-connected strivers who know how to work the system. Americans of all ethnicities are forced to compete against the children of foreign elites who pay in full.
Title IX and various other civil rights laws give the Federal government the authority to shape the admissions systems to address these inequalities. While I am normally skeptical of government intervention, our higher education system is already largely controlled and manipulated by the government, so any intervention is a modification of existing arrangements, rather than an insertion of government.
I recommend that the Department of Education use its authority to strongly suggest that colleges and universities receiving federal funds randomly select students for admission. This may seem radical, but we must consider the many benefits.
First, all of the inequalities in the system are stripped away. It doesn’t matter what your background is, you have the same chance to attend an elite school as anyone else, no matter your race, ethnicity or socio-economic class. Attending an elite college is a surefire way to ensure social mobility and prevent a hereditary elite from forming.
Another benefit is the enhanced mingling of all the various sorts of diversity in the United States. While colleges certainly do go to great lengths to promote diversity within their institutions, these attempts always focus on a small set of traits. These prevents other sorts of diversity from being ensured at these very important institutions which are only strengthened by the increased representation of broad ranges of diversity. There are so many ways to measure diversity, and random admissions provides statistical guarantees that every marginalized group is fairly represented.
A final benefit is the increased administrative efficiency. Schools employ dozens of workers to review applications and make admissions decisions. As we well know, these systems are prone to bias, but they also represent money that could be better spent on financial aid for under-served communities.
There are two caveats I’m willing to place on this guidance. Colleges may require students provide evidence they have earned a high school diploma or are likely to do so prior to the start of college. Secondly, schools must limit the number of foreign students in each freshman class to 10%; unless they have exhausted their wait-lists for American applicants. Federal funding goes towards educated Americans and building institutions which further the education of the American people — foreign students shouldn’t crowd them out.
This approach will lead to many unforeseen benefits, including things like the reduced stress on high school students to do all of the right things to get the attention of admissions employees. Instead, they can focus on what is most important to them and growing as individuals.
This change will also give individual institutions a chance to prove that they offer more to students than their highly selective admissions. If Ivy League students still consistently outperform students from state schools in their careers, we will truly know those price tags are justified.
I encourage each and every one of you to send this message along to those who can affect education policy. It is vitally important to our nation’s future that we make these changes to strengthen our great universities.